The Southern Oregon University football team's championship aspirations were met with predictable skepticism as indicated by the Frontier Conference preseason coaches' poll, which was released Tuesday by the league office.
WHITEFISH, Mont. — The Southern Oregon University football team's championship aspirations were met with predictable skepticism as indicated by the Frontier Conference preseason coaches' poll, which was released Tuesday by the league office.
Fourth-year coach Craig Howard's most seasoned Raider team yet was pegged to finish third in the Frontier behind perennial favorite Carroll College (Mont.) and Rocky Mountain (Mont.). Following SOU in the poll were Eastern Oregon, Montana Tech, Montana State-Northern, Montana Western, and newcomer College of Idaho.
Carroll has won every conference title since 1999 with one exception — 2012, when SOU, in its first season as a member of the Frontier, was a co-champion with Montana Tech.
Last season Carroll claimed the circuit title with a 9-1 mark, eventually advancing to the NAIA semifinals, while the Raiders and Rocky Mountain tied for second at 7-3 and Eastern Oregon was fourth at 6-4.
The Raiders will get their first of two shots at Carroll on their first home date of the season, Sept. 6, which will take place at Ashland High School while construction of the new Raider Stadium field turf is being completed. On Oct. 18 the teams will meet in Helena, Mont., where the Saints won the only matchup last year, 48-30, to break a first-place tie with two games left in the regular season. That was the only Raider loss in which they didn't have a lead in the final two minutes.
Rocky Mountain won its only 2013 matchup against SOU, 35-30, in the season-opener played at Grants Pass High, but later had to forfeit the win due to use of an ineligible player. This year's rematch is set for Nov. 1 in Ashland.
The Raiders were picked fifth in the 2012 preseason poll and third last year, when they opened up ranked 14th in the NAIA. They were 24th in the NAIA spring poll, and the preseason poll is due to be released on Aug. 11.
The Raiders' 589.8 yards per game last year were the second-most in NAIA history — trailing only the 2012 SOU team's 642-yard average — and all but one starter from that offense will be back, while the Raider defense brings back all but four starters.
With 102 career touchdown passes, senior quarterback Austin Dodge will start the season 18 away from matching the all-time NAIA record. He tossed 47 last year.
Players will report to SOU's fall camp on Aug. 8 to begin preparing for the Aug. 30 opener at Menlo (Calif.), which will serve as the only nonleague contest of the regular season.